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Open Educational Resources: Guide to OER Terms

Find open educational resources (OER) available to lower or eliminate the cost of textbook content for any course at Indian River State College. Find open access materials including alternative textbooks, public domain resources, and creative commons lice

Key to Icons Used in this Guide

All potential OER need to be evaluated for reuse in courses at IRSC. Some of the resources in the following pages offer materials that are mostly licensed for reuse by other, usually with a Creative Commons license. Some materials are made for the public domain or have entered the public domain because the copyright has run its course. Other materials can be used to teach, but you need to link to these resources because the creator has retained the full copyright.

Creative Commons Licenses

Read the full description on the Creative Commons website along with the legal code and apply to CC your original works.



CC BY License

CC-Creative Commons


CC BY-NC License

CC-Creative Commons


CC BY-NC-ND License

CC-Creative Commons
ND-No Derivatives


CC BY-NC-SA License

CC-Creative Commons
SA-Share Alike


CC BY-ND License

CC-Creative Commons
ND-No Derivatives


CC BY-SA License

CC-Creative Commons
SA-Share Alike

What Can you Freely Reuse in Course Materials?

A product in the public domain can be shared without restriction. Works in the public domain include:

  • Most work produced by the United States Government, see the rules and exceptions here
  • Works that have an expired copyright (i.e. 70 years after the creator's death, although not true for all items)
  • Works created for the public domain (the creator gives others free reign to reuse or mix content using a Creative Commons license or puts it in the public domain)
  • An idea expressed in a work or a common fact

A very helpful FAQ page on what is and is not permitted in the classroom due to copyright concerns can be found on the University of Maryland University College Libraries' website. The United States Copyright Office's Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians gives more concrete examples of what is and is not allowed under fair use of copyrighted materials in the classroom. You can read here that the spirit of fair use is achieved in the spontaneity of using materials.

Glossary of Terms

Open Educational Resources (OER): Openly licensed (i.e. public domain/Creative Commons) educational materials that can be used, reused, modified, and redistributed for teaching, learning, and researching purposes free of charge or at low cost.

Copyright: Copyright law protects the creator of an original work (or the owner of the copyright for that work) by granting him or her exclusive rights to the work for a set length of time, including the rights to reproduce, publish, sell, and make derivative works.

Creative Commons: A nonprofit organization that offers a way for people to license their work in order to maintain the level of control they desire. There are a variety of licenses available ranging from very strict (similar to copyright) to completely open and free. Learn more here.

Fair Use: The Fair Use doctrine sets forth the rules and conditions which must be met in order for copyrighted work to be used for educational purposes. Learn more here.

Licensing: Licensing is the process by which the creator/owner of a work allows others to use (and/or reproduce/adapt) their works.

Institutional repository: An institutional repository is an online archive of materials hosted and maintained by an organization, such as a college of university. Institutional repositories allow institutions to house the scholarly work of their members online.

Open Access: Materials (scholarly articles, textbooks, datasets, etc.) which are open access are free to be used, distributed, remixed, and adapted by anyone, ideally immediately upon creation.

Public domain: Works which are not (or are no longer) protected by copyright are considered to be in the public domain, meaning they can be accessed and used freely by the public.

Fair Use Overview

Fair Use

Fair Use Explanation

Copyright and Primary Sources for Teachers

What is fair use?

Fair use is an exception to the exclusive protection of copyright under American law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. Depending on the circumstances, copying may be considered "fair" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.

To determine whether a specific use under one of these categories is "fair," courts are required to consider the following factors:

1.    The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2.    The nature of the copyrighted work

3.    The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4.    The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Copyright protects the particular way authors have expressed themselves. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in a work.

The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

Keep in mind that even in an educational setting; it is not fair use to copy for a "commercial motive" or to copy "systematically," that is, "where the aim is to substitute for subscription or purchase." No factor by itself will determine whether a particular use is "fair." All four factors must be weighed together in light of the circumstances. See the U.S. Copyright Office's Copyright Information Circulars and Form Letters for "Circular 21-Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."

If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

Open Educational Resources and Alterntive OERs

Table of Openness by Resource Type

There are alternatives to using strict OERs in your course to replace textbook costs. Faculty can use library resources as replacements to textbook content, but library resources are considered alternative OERs. They are not free to reuse and distribute as openly as OERs. Faculty can assign readings in library resources or use an unrestricted licensed eBook in place of a textbook. Students would access these resources by logging into the online library to view, read, and download materials. Some eBooks purchased by the libraries offer an unlimited number of views allowing an entire class to view, read, and download the same eBook as many times as needed during the semester. Contact a librarian to get a list of library eBooks that can be used for this purpose. Copyright law makes it impossible to upload database journal articles to your Blackboard course, but linking to these materials is appropriate and can be done as many times as needed.

Google Scholar Search

Faculty can assign readings from the Internet that are not open access. One would just need to link out to the resource rather than uploading a PDF to Blackboard to avoid any copyright violations. Faculty may also ask the copyright holder for permission to use content in a way that is not strictly expressed under the Fair Use rule that pertains to copyright exceptions (see below for an explanation of fair use). Google Scholar is one search engine that brings back more scholarly results than an Internet search alone. Other databases of scholarly material online can be found at the following repositories.